Observing the political classes: the Berlusconi circus

One typical type of fall-out from economic crisis is a steep drop in respect for politicians. If conditions become really bad, most voters become really negative about the politicians who presided over the period that got them there. Sometimes that is both understandable and justified, sometimes it’s just understandable. These moments are genuinely risky for political and social stability, and it becomes vital for politicians to display skill and integrity.

Right now we are at such a moment. Irish politicians – those that have been in government – have had some difficulty finding the right note for the times they are in, as was the case also with the last British government under Gordon Brown. But whatever else we might say about Brown or Brian Cowen (who is rapidly disappearing from everyone’s consciousness), they have not been accused of personal wrongdoing or lapses in professional integrity (as distinct from serious lapses of judgement).

The same can manifestly not be said of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi. Throughout most of his career as a political leader he has been dogged by scandal and controversy, covering his business activities and interests and his personal life. From the distance of these islands it is sometimes easy to laugh at his antics and to marvel at how his political career can have survived them to date. But really, it’s not a laughing matter for a European politician and the leader of one of the large countries of the EU to be seen in this way, as his collapsing credibility has some effect on the integrity of European politics more generally.

Now a judge in Milan has ordered Berlusconi to stand trial in April for paying for sex with an under-age woman, amidst rumours that this conduct, if found to be true, might resemble other similar, additional, allegations.

In the interests of European political integrity, it is time for Italy to remove this politician from office, and to do so fast. It is no longer funny, if it ever was.

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6 Comments on “Observing the political classes: the Berlusconi circus”

  1. anna notaro Says:

    I could write and talk for hours on this and still I would find it difficult to explain to myself and to others the reasons why italian (young) democracy has metamorphised into some kind of *porndemocracy*. I could argue that Berlisconi taps into the worst instincts of the Italian people (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-12-15/berlusconi-taps-italy-s-gut-instincts-makes-voters-accomplices-books.html),
    I could focus on the media aspects, the vicious conflict of interests of a man who is simultaneously a media tycoon and the head of goverment, what I know for sure is that this is a case when even looking for a rationale won’t allievate the embarassment, the sense of shame and ultimately the sadness that I feel faced by the spectacle of Italian contemporary politics. Italian has a beautiful word for sadness (tristezza) the sound makes you almost cry already, the physical and the psychological distilled in one single word. But I want to end on a more hopeful note by mentioning what happened only two days ago when thousands of Italian women marched to affirm their dignity in many Italian cities and abroad (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/13/silvio-berlusconi-protests-italian-women)It is not over yet but it was an encouraging sign and, for once, I smiled


    • Yes, Anna – I agree that the women’s march was potentially a turning point and was extremely significant.

    • Vincent Says:

      Anna, is there not a danger of equating a march of 1 million women with 1 million women that would vote for Berlusconi and would never in a million years take direction from their University educated sisters.

      • anna notaro Says:

        Vincent, your point is a valid one in so far as the country is extremely divided (this is the most pernicious legacy of ‘berlusconism’), on the other hand though the women’s marches all over Italy were representative of a wide spectrum of the population and higher education was not the only common factor. As I said it was encouraging, still unless the anger is channeled into coherentand cohesive political representation very little will come out of it :(

        • Vincent Says:

          Myself, I thought he performed a useful function by taking the political dance away from the insane that had the Vatican with the ultra catholics and the Labour Unions at each others throat. After the collapse of the Communist Party these people had to go someplace. And they could like in France have gone to a National Front type of party.
          Is it not amasing all the same that these million women have no question in their minds that he actually has the ability at 74 to commit such an alleged offense.

          • anna notaro Says:

            at this point it’s not the case anymore of what it might have been, yes he might have represented a modern center-right, conservative type of party, but that project has failed due to the personal and political failings of the man. In spite of the Catholic background Italians are not puritanical when it comes to the ‘affairs of the heart’, however when a serious criminal offence is alleged one would hope that even the most fervent supporters, no matter whether males or females, might finally wake up!


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